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What Is Dinghy Sailing?

E.A. Sanker
E.A. Sanker

Dinghy sailing is the practice of sailing small boats, usually defined as not more than 20 feet (about 6 meters) in length. Many sailing dinghies are much smaller; the Optimist sailing dinghy is only about 7 feet (about 2 meters) in length. The term dinghy sailing may refer to either sailing for pleasure or to the sport of competitive racing. A wide range of sailing dinghy classes exist, and they may be sailed with a crew of one, two, or even more than two people.

Sailing dinghies may be made out of fiberglass or wood. Some dinghy sailing enthusiasts prefer to build their own boats from kits of prefabricated parts or patterns. Simple sailing dinghies can be used for family day-sailing or non-professional races. On the other end of the spectrum are high-performance sailing dinghies, which feature a light hull and a large sailing rig for maximum speed in professional racing.

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Beginning sailors often start out sailing in small dinghies to learn the mechanics of sailing. Popular dinghy sailing models used by children include the Optimist and the Topper. Both of these boats are lightweight and simple to use. The Optimist rig features a single sail raised by a sprit, which can be disassembled when not in use. A removable centerboard extends into the water from the center line of the hull, allowing the sailor to stabilize the boat and control the draft as necessary based on the depth of the water.

The International 420 Class Dinghy, called simply the 420 for short, is another popular sailing dinghy used by both beginners and more advanced sailors. 420s are about 14 feet (about 4 meters) long and carry a crew of two. They have both a mainsail and a smaller sail rigged nearer the bow, known as the jib. An additional sail, the spinnaker, can also be rigged on the 420. The 420 is often raced competitively and is included as part of the centerboard class in the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Sailing World Championships.

In competitive dinghy sailing, a course known as the Olympic triangle is often used. This course consists of an equilateral triangle marked out by buoys, with the beginning leg of the triangle aligned into the wind. Sailors must tack up into the wind, or "beat to windward," to round the first buoy, leaving it to port, and continue around the course counterclockwise. After the lap is completed, sailors beat to windward again, rounding the windward buoy, and run directly back to the starting point, a pattern known as a “hot dog.” Another lap, and then a last beat to windward, finishes out the course.

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